The best spies, spying and cold war thrillers

Robert Craven Author Of A Kind of Drowning
By Robert Craven

Who am I?

I am the author of six espionage books, 5 featuring allied spy, Eva Molenaar operating at the highest levels of Hitler’s Reich. The 6th The Road of a Thousand Tigers, is my homage to le Carre and Ian Fleming. I have loved the spy genre since I first read The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers and grew up seeing every Bond movie since The Man with the Golden Gun at the cinema.


I wrote...

A Kind of Drowning

By Robert Craven,

Book cover of A Kind of Drowning

What is my book about?

The man standing at the funeral in bubble-gum pink hair is P.J. Crowe. His career as a detective is in tatters—he's facing dismissal, vilified by the press, and his wife's about to leave. Lying low in a small seaside town he spots a ‘Help Wanted’ ad in the kitchen of a local café. It offers him an escape from the public and his spiralling mental health—and it's where Thea Farrell worked—until she was found dead at sea.

And herein lies the problem: Thea was an Olympic medallist, silver for swimming, and Crowe’s burned-out synapses are starting to join the dots—it wasn't his case, but his cop’s senses tell him that Thea wasn’t the drowning kind. And the suspect may well be in the congregation.

The books I picked & why

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The Mask of Dimitrios

By Eric Ambler,

Book cover of The Mask of Dimitrios

Why this book?

It’s hard to believe The Mask of Dimitrios is over 80 years old. Published on the eve of WW2, it’s a story of a writer, Charles Latimer, who is intrigued by a body taken out of the Bosphorus Sea, murdered by a stab wound. It is presumed to be the spy, pimp, and drug dealer named Dimitrios. Latimer sets out to find out who the dead man was and embarks on a journey across the cauldron of pre-war Europe. The writing is as fresh today as it was then. It reads like a modern-day thriller. I love the premise and the sense of dread throughout with vivid descriptions of the countries and the characters. He almost maps out the beginning of the cold war even then.

The Mask of Dimitrios

By Eric Ambler,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Mask of Dimitrios as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


From Russia With Love

By Ian Fleming,

Book cover of From Russia With Love

Why this book?

From Russia with Love is a short book and is set at the early stages of the cold war. It shakes up the norm by spending close to a quarter of the opening of the novel describing Donald ‘Red’ Grant’s evolution from Irish thug to Russia’s leading spy killer. Bond is targeted by SMERSH to be eliminated by Grant and the lure; a SPEKTOR coding machine that British Intelligence are keen to get hold of. The final showdown between Grant and Bond on a train is a masterclass in tension and violence, like Eric Ambler, Fleming captures Europe and its mindset, this time in its post-war paranoia. It is my favorite Bond book. For me, Fleming never bettered it. 

From Russia With Love

By Ian Fleming,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked From Russia With Love as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

There's no better time to rediscover James Bond.

SMERSH, the Russian intelligence unit, is hell-bent on destroying Special Agent James Bond.

His death would deal a hammer blow to the heart of The British Secret Service.

The lure? The chance for 007 to bring the Spektor decoding machine from Istanbul to London, and for the British to take the upper hand in a chilling new front of the Cold War.

So begins a deadly game of bluff and double bluff, with Bond a marked man as he enters the murky world of Balkan espionage.

'Bond is a hero for all…


Kolymsky Heights

By Lionel Davidson,

Book cover of Kolymsky Heights

Why this book?

Written in 1994 after the collapse of the USSR, it is a spy story, but much more than that, a Homeric quest. A letter is smuggled out of Siberia, addressed to Jonny Porter, a Canadian of indigenous extract and who is then recruited by the CIA to go into Russia, posing as a Korean sailor to undertake a rescue mission. Porter’s journey into Russia is layered with unremitting tension as near his final destination, his identity is discovered, and he is hunted across the frozen tundra by Soviet forces.

Kolymsky Heights is my first port of call when I’m preparing to write my novels. It is a masterclass in plotting and immersing the reader into a world and country we still know so little about. Davidson is a very underrated writer and deserves a wider audience, this is the perfect introduction to his work.

Kolymsky Heights

By Lionel Davidson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kolymsky Heights as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Kolymsky Heights. A Siberian permafrost hell lost in endless night, the perfect setting for an underground Russian research station. One so secret it doesn't officially exist. Once there, scientists cannot leave. But someone has got a message out to the West - a message summoning the only man alive capable of achieving the impossible.'One of the most powerful thrillers I have ever read'Michael James, The Times'A breathless story of fear and courage' Daily Telegraph'A tremendous thriller' Observer

The Constant Gardener

By John Le Carré,

Book cover of The Constant Gardener

Why this book?

Published in 2001, The Constant Gardener is my favorite le Carre Novel. A British diplomat in Nairobi, Justin Quayle, is informed his activist wife, Tess has been killed in a remote part of Kenya along with a doctor friend. As Quayle investigates her life (in a similar way to Eric Ambler unfolds Dimitrios’s life), he uncovers her work exposing large pharmaceutical companies’ unethical experiments in the poorest regions of Africa. This leads to her brutal death and cover-up at a diplomatic and political level. It is an exceptional book that makes you rethink how medicine and the industry behind it operates. After the collapse of the USSR, le Carre seemed to struggle with his work, The Constant Gardener though, kick-started another two decades of great writing from him.

The Constant Gardener

By John Le Carré,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Constant Gardener as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The book breathes life, anger and excitement' Observer

Tessa Quayle, a brilliant and beautiful young social activist, has been found brutally murdered by Lake Turkana in Nairobi. The rumours are that she was faithless, careless, but her husband Justin, a reserved, garden-loving British diplomat, refuses to believe them. As he sets out to discover what really happened to Tessa, he unearths a conspiracy more disturbing, and more deadly, than he could ever have imagined.

A blistering expose of global corruption, The Constant Gardener is also the moving portrayal of a man searching for justice for the woman he has barely…


London Rules

By Mick Herron,

Book cover of London Rules

Why this book?

This book certainly made me stop and think about how I write, and I have altered my style since. Set in modern-day London, the Slow Horses (failed MI6 operatives forced to work in Slough House) under the tutelage of Jackson Lamb eke out a futile existence. The heads of MI6 hope the demeaning work will make them walk away and leave the espionage world. Lamb is one of the great characterizations, a burnt-out spy who still has acres of tradecraft and protects his team against the outside forces at a political and international level. A string of random terrorist attacks around the UK seem to tie in with a show-boating politician riding the Brexit wave and the team goes rogue to find out the connection. A book as far away from Bond as possible but brilliantly written and plotted.

London Rules

By Mick Herron,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked London Rules as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*Now a major TV series starring Gary Oldman*

'The best thriller writer in Britain today' Sunday Express

At Regent's Park, the Intelligence Service HQ, new First Desk Claude Whelan is learning the job the hard way.

Tasked with protecting a beleaguered Prime Minister, he's facing attack from all directions: from the showboating MP who orchestrated the Brexit vote, and now has his sights set on Number Ten; from the showboat's wife, a tabloid columnist, who's crucifying Whelan in print; and especially from his own deputy, Lady Di Taverner, who's alert for Claude's every stumble. Meanwhile, the country's being rocked by…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Cold War, Russia, and Istanbul?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Cold War, Russia, and Istanbul.

The Cold War Explore 155 books about the Cold War
Russia Explore 248 books about Russia
Istanbul Explore 27 books about Istanbul

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, All the President's Men, and The Talented Mr. Ripley if you like this list.